Saturday, April 8, 2017

'The most popular opera in the world' — big & full & lush

La Traviata, it's said, is "the most popular opera in the world." It's often said with a bit of a sniff, as if its very popularity is a negative thing.

I do like it, as it happens, and I've liked it for a long time. I first became familiar with it when a boyfriend gave me a long-playing album of the orchestral version — no singing. I was a Montreal General Hospital student nurse, at that time doing an affiliation at the Montreal Children's Hospital. We were sitting in a restaurant near the old Montreal Forum and when he gave it to me and I read the title, I really had no idea what it was.

I can't remember where I first listened to the record — I'm pretty sure there were no record players in the public areas of our residences — but I listened to it somewhere because over the years, it became very familiar. Eventually, I preferred the opera with the singing included but I kept this record until very recently, when we moved and parted with all the hundreds and hundreds of LPs in our collections.

The music of La Traviata is big and full and lush. The singing is emotional and sensual. Productions of this opera usually match all those descriptions with colour and elaborate costumes and grand sets. They're often described as sumptuous or florid.

The Metropolitan production of 1957, starring Renata Tebaldi, was one example.

A production in Rome in 2009 was another example:

On a recent Saturday afternoon, we saw it Live from the Met with — as they like to say — "audiences around the world . . . when it simulcast the matinee to over 2,000 theaters in some 70 countries as part of its Live in HD series."

Sumptuous and florid, it was not. I thought this review described it well:

The curtain rises on a mostly bare stage with a huge semi-circular wall stretching from wing to wing and a curved bench placed in front of it. A gigantic clock leans against the wall at stage left and a man dressed in black, with white hair and stubbly beard, sits on the bench next to the clock, hands on his knees, staring off into space as though waiting for someone to arrive.

He, of course, represents Death, or one of his henchmen, and he will stalk Violetta throughout the opera, popping up unobtrusively in various scenes until the final one when he (played by James Courtney) sings the small part of the doctor attending her in her final hours.

During the Overture, Violetta herself enters wearing a bright red dress. She first collapses on the bench as though exhausted from a night of partying, then hauls herself up and staggers across the stage as though her feet hurt, kicks off her shoes, and sits next to the man.

The walled-in stage serves as the set for all scenes, allowing for both scenes of Act II and Act III to be sung without pause. Some boxy IKEA-like couches are added for Violetta’s and Alfredo’s villa outside Paris where Alfredo prances around in boxer shorts. The chorus, all dressed in black suits and ties, men and women alike, invade the stage for the party scenes, emphasizing a male-dominated society. The clock gets moved around some. It’s all very arty.

Although I'm trying to be more open-minded, it's possible that if I'd read this before I went, I might have had second thoughts. Thank goodness I didn't. I loved this production. The very starkness of the sets magnified the effect of the music, the characters, the story.

In truth though, the real star of this show (along with Verdi, of course) was the Star.

Sonya Yoncheva was so appealing. Her voice was magnificent and her acting was so heartfelt — so playful, so sexy and sad, so human. She was almost never out of our sight and her energy never flagged. It was a performance that has stayed with me and keeps popping back into my head.

The theatre, opera, ballet that we've been able to see at the Cineplex Events have become one of my favourite things. I'll come back another day and tell you about some of the other wonderful productions we've seen.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A photo project, a Mrs. Enid sighting & rubber leg syndrome

The Halifax Public Gardens are closed in the winter. I had never given that much thought until we moved across the street. I'm glad they're closed; it looks so restful over there. As the snow comes and goes, the flower beds and the paths change shape and direction. The pond freezes and snow covers it. The temperature goes up and it's open water again. The Gardens are filled with exotic plants, rare trees, tropical shrubs, and they need this peaceful break.

On the first day of Spring, we started one of those projects you so often read of other people doing. We decided to take a photo every day at the same time (approximately) of the same view for a year. Dan wanted to get fancy and buy a tripod and do it "properly" but I wanted a more casual project. We'd just go to the window and take the picture. We decided on a view that includes the Public Gardens and Citadel Hill.

Because I usually try to be near the window at noon, to see/hear the Noon Gun from the Citadel, that seemed like a good time to take the picture. (I separate "see" and "hear"because even though the gun is not far away, there's an obvious pause between when we see the puff of smoke and when we hear the boom.) So far, we've done the photo every day. A couple of times, we were going to be out so we took the photo early but that's to be expected.

A couple of days ago, I was waiting at the window and scanning the surrounding area when I noticed people walking inside the Gardens. They didn't look like intruders so I assumed they were City workers. One fellow set up a tripod and I thought maybe they were going to be doing some surveying.

Then I noticed there were a couple of women with them, women who looked a bit familiar. There was something about those cloth coats, the little hats, the fur-trimmed snow-boots, the handbag hanging over the arm. "I think that's Mrs. Enid," I said to Dan.

Regular viewers of This Hour has 22 Minutes will recognize the wonderful Cathy Jones. Mrs. Enid is always seen trudging somewhat tiredly down a path in a park, expounding on life. She used to do it regularly with Eulalia — played by Mary Walsh — but I don't think it was Mary with her this time. I'll wait for the program. It was a cold windy day and the way TV is, for a five-minute skit, they were there for at least two hours.

There was one more little drama to play out that day. Just before 7:00 p.m., there was a fire alarm. It was very very loud — quite alarming, in fact — and the cats didn't like it at all. Me either. We didn't know what the protocol was in a situation like this so we opened our door and went out into the hall. The only neighbour out was the young man who lives next door. He looked pretty relaxed and said since he's lived here, there have been a couple of such events and they were both false alarms. He thought he'd wait and see if anything happened.

We decided maybe we'd better head down. I put on my winter jacket and boots and grabbed my phone, my keys and a pair of gloves. So much for, "What treasures would you rescue if you were escaping a burning building?" We told the cats we'd be right back and we hit the stairs.

Now remember, we live on the 17th floor — that's our building on the left. Count four balconies down from the top and that's us.

It was awful in the stairwell. There was a wind blowing through there. It was echo-y. People kept joining us as we went down — old people, young people, families, some with babes-in-arms. In one family, two parents and two small children, both adults carried a violin. They knew what to grab on their way out.

I found it very hard. I couldn't set my own pace because there were people ahead of us, people behind us. I didn't want to be the one who broke the rhythm. I was very thankful for the railing which was continuous and steady.

We did eventually find ourselves in the lobby which was full of people and tiny dogs. The alarm was still clanging and when it stopped, the cacophony continued because those little dogs hadn't been able to hear themselves before. They had to make up for lost time. The firetruck was in front of the building but after about five minutes, the firefighters came through the lobby and they declared the all-clear. False alarm. Dan left and went off to a lecture where he'd been headed when all this started, our building manager opened the elevators, and I took the liberty of going ahead of a parade of little dogs and got on the first elevator.

By the time I reached the apartment, my legs felt as if they were made of rubber. I was very glad that we didn't have to walk up the stairs but who knew going down all those stairs would be so hard? At the risk of sounding like a cliché, I honestly did use muscles in my legs that I didn't know were there. My legs were very sore for a couple of days and I will head back to the treadmill so I'll be more prepared if the occasion arises again.

Friday, March 10, 2017

There's a long long trail a-winding *

Finton Sanburn O'Donnell was born on May 12, 1896, in Carroll's Crossing, Northumberland Co., New Brunswick on the upper reaches of the Miramichi River.

On November 9, 1915, he travelled to Sussex, NB where he enlisted in the 104th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Six months later, on June 28, 1916, the Battalion embarked at Halifax on the S.S. Olympic (the older sister of the Titanic and the Brittanic) and set sail for Europe. (If you click on the pictures, you'll be able to read the small print.)

I never heard him talk about the war but I do know that he fought in the north of France and in Belgium. I connect him with Passchendaele and his service record seems to suggest that he fought at Vimy Ridge. Right at the end of his CEF Soldier Detail form, there's a cryptic note that suggested he might have been killed at Vimy. Look at the very last line:

He wasn't killed at Vimy but it may have been there that he picked up all those pieces of shrapnel that remained embedded in his body for decades after. I have a clear memory of him being in the hospital — I think it would have been in the '60s — for "removal of World War I shrapnel." If he went back to Vimy today, he would find it has changed although there may be landmarks he would recognize. It looked like this when we visited in 2015.

After the war was over, when he came back home, he married my mother's oldest sister — Lou, or Lulu. She had been teaching at the little school in Durham Bridge where she and her brothers and sisters had grown up. At some point after they got married, they moved to Smoothrock Falls in Northern Ontario where two of Lou's brothers had settled with their families.

But their future was in Durham Bridge. They came back and lived with Lou's family — their only child, Cedric, was born there — while Fint built the house that I visited throughout my young life.

The house is still there, in a lovely shady yard not that easily seen from the road.

It was a pretty house. It has some charming features that were particularly attractive to little girls. There were inviting built-in bookshelves in the triangular space beneath the stairs. Lulu had lots of books that we loved reading, including most of the works of L.M. Montgomery in old-fashioned hard-cover editions. I was reading one of them one day when it came time to leave and she insisted I take it with me. I still have it.

Upstairs, there was a cozy bed at the end of the hall, built into the space where the two slanted walls of the roof met. It was where I slept when we stayed overnight and I liked it partly because I could see whatever coming and going there was in the night, being out there in the hall. It showed a lot of imagination and creativity to have built that little bed in that space. People with less imagination might have simply put a table there — not nearly as interesting.

The screened-in sunporch at the front of the house was the chosen place for spending an afternoon during a summer visit. I can still feel the soft breeze and almost smell the fragrance from the flower garden, not far beyond where we sat. The women always sat on one end of the porch, the men on the other. There would be tea.

As with most country houses though, the kitchen was the heart of the house and the focal point in the kitchen was the built-in sofa/day bed. It was an inviting spot and I spent many an hour curled up there, reading. It seems odd to me now but it seemed perfectly natural then that stacked near the bottom of the day bed was a pile of The Illustrated London News. We often walked with Fint up the railway tracks to the station to get the mail and I remember a couple of times, a bunch of The Illustrated London News would have arrived. It was an occasion; those papers were much anticipated.

The kitchen sink with a water hand-pump was in front of a low window that looked out onto the garden. There were the usual rows of vegetables but the spectacular parts of the garden were the flowers. There were sweet peas and gladiolas, roses and pansies, cosmos, zinnias, marigolds, nasturtium. Those flowers were magnificent. At a certain point in the summer, every room in the house would be adorned with bowls and vases full of roses. It was a touch of such beauty and elegance.

Fint reputedly was not that fond of children but he seemed to like Marilyn (my sister) and me and we spent a lot of time with him. The land that belonged to the family was rented out and farmed by a neighbour but Fint still liked to take a walk down through the fields and he often took us with him, especially when there was haying or harvesting being done.

Although he had retired from working the farm, he kept some chickens and a black cow called Lady in a small barn not that far from the house. I was a little scared of Lady although not when she was in the barn. We loved being there when Fint was milking Lady. There were cats and kittens in the barn and he would send a stream of milk toward them and the cats would leap with open mouths to catch some milk, nice and fresh. He sat on a three-legged stool and milked into a shiny metal pail and from there, the milk went into a beautiful large amber pitcher, right into the fridge.

One time, Fint took us up the road to a supper in the community hall. It was baked beans, brown bread, potato scallop and ham. I'm not sure why no one else went to the supper but Marilyn and I were happy to go along with him. It was a good supper too and looking back, I remember how respectful all the people there were toward Fint. I had never seen him except in very familiar family situations and it was nice to see that his neighbours felt so warmly toward him.

Lulu did most of the cooking in the household, as far as we knew, but apart from that, she sat in her rocking chair like a tiny Queen. She was said to be "delicate," which caused her younger sisters to scoff. "She'll outlive us all," they often said and indeed, she did.

She was always nicely turned out and it was no secret that Fint regularly took the bus into town — Fredericton — where he exchanged her library books, bought a box of chocolates, and brought dresses and shoes home "on approval." She would make her choices and on his next trip, he'd return the rejects.

When Lady and the chickens were gone and he needed more challenges, he built a workshop just across the yard from the backdoor of the house. It was another place that he welcomed us and I loved going out to the workshop. Inside, there was a workbench on one end with every kind of saw and a good selection of tools. In the far corner, there was a cot and along the opposite wall, a pot-bellied stove. There was a record player with a selection of 78 rpm records that he was using to learn another language — Russian, I think.

Near the window, there was an easel where Fint painted pictures, usually still life of fruit or flowers. He built the wooden frames to put around his pictures. The floor was covered with curls of newly-planed wood. I loved the smell of the shop, the fresh wood, the paint, the turpentine.

He built furniture also. Mum had a sturdy little end table in her den that he'd built.

And he built this:

My lovely little bookcase — always called "the Sharon bookcase" — has now been with me for several decades. Its first home was in my bedroom when we still lived in the "hydro houses" in Chatham. It stayed home with Mum and Dad for awhile but it's now part of my furniture and has been for many years and in lots of houses. It's just outside the kitchen door here — a high-traffic area — and it's full of cookbooks which seem to suit it very well.

When I look at it closely, I see what a labour of love it truly was.

That's a little drawer along the top and the letters that spell my name are cut from wood and painted silver. Think of the work! I wish I had appreciated it then the way I appreciate it now.

It was the bookcase that inspired me to write about Fint. He really was such an interesting person. I had no idea when I was little. How would I know? But when I look back at the man who built such an interesting little house with such imaginative details; who was teaching himself another language; who read The Illustrated London News; who grew the most beautiful flowers ever and also painted their portraits; who built a personalized bookcase for his little niece never knowing that more than half-a-century later it would hold pride of place wherever I lived, I'm filled with admiration.

When you hear the expression, "a life well-lived," you don't always think of a life like Fint's, a life on a small farm in central New Brunswick, in sleepy little Durham Bridge.

I think his life qualifies though and I would like to think he thought so too.


* As often happens, I have no particular reason for choosing my headline except for a song that keeps running through my head as I write. I do think of the First World War when I think of Fint although I think of many other things too. But I like this song and I listened to a version that was recorded by John McCormack in 1917. You can listen to it too. You don't have to download it. You can click right at the top of the page where it says Vintage Audio. (Adjust the volume on your keyboard. It opens very loud.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

My virtual journey to the land of the politically unhinged

It started one day last week when I was reading a Facebook discussion about the latest from the Trump administration. It was the time of the infamous ban on immigration from certain countries; his prayer breakfast ask for better ratings for The Apprentice; his angry and inappropriate conversations with world leaders; and his Black History Month statement with the astonishing reference to Frederick Douglass.

Most of the people in the Facebook discussion — progressives all — were expressing various degrees of outrage, shock and embarrassment. It was the mention of embarrassment that raised the subject of people in the US who had voted for Trump: do you think those people are regretting their vote? Do you think they're feeling remorse and will be joining the resistance as time proceeds?

It was right about then that a commenter showed up to say something like, "Let's give him some time. Every new president has to learn the ropes and he should be given the same chance as others."

This is not an uncommon view on the Internet but I was surprised to see it in this particular discussion. So I popped over to his place to see what kind of fellow he was. I took a look at his profile — he's a Canadian — and checked out a few of the discussions on his own page. Nothing outstanding. Some of his friends looked intriguing though so I took a ramble around. The people I clicked on were American but apart from that, completely random — I chose them either because I found they were interesting looking or they made a comment that invited further investigation.

It's hard to come up with numbers but I clicked on dozens of different people starting with that fellow and moving through whole colonies and communities of his friends and their friends and so on and so on. Most people don't use tight privacy measures and all of the people I checked out had hundreds — some had a few thousand — Facebook friends. I read many many discussions on their pages and saw little disagreement among the participants so I think it's fair to say that I managed to get a wee taste, at least, of the political climate.

The people I chose were not wild-eyed, tobacco-chewin' reprobates. Many, but not all, of my choices were women — women who garden and who lay a lovely Thanksgiving table and have grandchildren. They're church-goers and they quote the Bible regularly. There were quite a few from Texas but also people from Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona, California, Maine and I'm sure a few other states I'm forgetting.

Having spent a few days following a variety of their discussions, I can assure you of one thing: they do not regret voting for Donald Trump. On the contrary, they love everything he's done so far and they're looking forward to whatever outrageous thing he does next. They couldn't be happier about his cabinet and judicial choices and the harder the Democrats fight against the appointments, the more gleeful and gloating these Facebookers are.

I can see something else very clearly: their love and admiration and support for Trump has risen to the top of their political lives but it's built on a foundation that is solid and enduring. That is their malevolent, toxic, vicious hatred for President Obama.

The accusations of Satanism are just the beginning. On most of the pages, when he's mentioned, he's referred to as Barack HUSSEIN Obama II. The hatred of Obama is matched only by the hatred and fear of Muslims which is never far from the surface of the discussion. It is also deeply rooted in racism and full of words and images that I can't get out of my head and that I'm certainly not going to report here. I will only say that more than once — many times, in fact — I have seen references to "our" America (quotation marks theirs) and I've often seen a picture like this. . .

. . .with the statement, "Thank God, we have a real family in the White House now."

Now I wasn't that surprised to see and experience the hate. I've always known it was there. Anyone who follows US politics knows it was there. I admit that I was taken aback by the extent of the virulence of some of it and there are plenty of posts, memes and pictures I wish I could un-see. I'll have to hope it fades.

If I wasn't surprised by the hate, I was surprised by the love. I don't know if it's really love but it's expressed that way.

"I love President Trump so much," was one simple post I saw from a woman in Baton Rouge. There were no comments following it, just a series of sweet little heart icons. It made me sick, to be honest. I never thought someone could feel that way about Trump. But it wasn't the last time I saw that sentiment expressed. It was all over the place. It made me wonder how people could feel so differently about one man and his actions? How could Trump be mocked and ridiculed, scorned and despised by one group of people while another group swoons with happiness over every scandalous action he takes and every atrocious word he utters?

Two reasons: It's possible that the real divide in the US is where your information comes from. The Trump-lovers are not getting their information from the New York Times or the Washington Post or the LA Times or CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC — any of the outlets that Trump himself calls the "dirty lying media." Source of all fake news.

And if Fox News and Breitbart disappeared tomorrow, Trump-lovers would not be left high and dry looking for news. There are certainly hundreds — probably thousands — of "news" sources out there ready to pick up the slack. The appointments Trump makes, the things he says and does, and the things that others say about him are "reported" so differently as to be unrecognizable. When they read the beautiful things about Betsy Devos' life and beliefs and then read about the obscene, repugnant teachers unions and civil rights groups who spoke against her appointment — they're convinced. They love Betsy and anyone who's so kind and so generous will save and protect the children from the perverts who make up the education system.

So yes, media make a difference. But maybe not the biggest difference.

This picture has been going around in various communities. It's a big joke in some of them but believe me, to the people I've been visiting with, it's no joke. They not only accept this version of what's happening in the Oval Office, they believe it was ordained. One person posted, "If only you knew a little more about the REAL US history, you would know that Trump is a freaking force of nature sent by GOD to defeat evil! End of story!" The history he's referring to is slavery. He posts a picture of Jesus signing a bill then, a few breaths later, he launches into some of the most disgusting hate language I've seen all week.

So I think this is all pretty complicated. I wrote this because I became convinced that there are probably many people who voted for Trump who are not sorry and who love him and his presidency. I've now come to believe that if anyone tries to remove him, there will be hell to pay.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Regrets? I've had a few but then again. . .

One of the apartments I lived in as a young woman in Montreal had a French Provincial dining room suite — a table to seat six, a buffet and hutch. I remember them looking something like this:



I may be remembering them a little more elegantly than they were but these look close in my memory anyway.

There was nice living room furniture too — also some French Provincial pieces although the cat had really done some unfortunate damage to a pretty little love-seat. This kind of damage:

It was very unlike the chrome sets and plastic upholstery of most furnished apartments.

I enjoyed it a lot until a friend speculated that an elderly couple had probably been evicted for non-payment of rent and the evil landlord had seized the furniture and sent the dear old pensioners packing. That was a terrible story. I preferred the version that had the old couple passing away peacefully and their grateful family donating the furniture to the building in memory of their happy life there.

I lived alone in that apartment for awhile, an interesting experience for me. I had never lived alone. I wasn't working right then — by choice — and I enjoyed the leisure time I had, pursuing some of the interests I'd never been able to fit in. I spent time in museums and galleries, I browsed in the bookstores, I went to two movies — alone!— I had lunch with friends.

One day, when I was browsing in the record store, I ran into a fellow I knew through some mutual friends. I liked him. He was a lovely guy, smart, funny, a little shy. We had a nice conversation about the music we were both looking at and he was very enthusiastic about his purchases. He said he'd love to play them for me and I said I'd love to hear them. We agreed to get together at my place, order a pizza and listen to music. It was very casual.

He came over a couple of days later and it was fun. We talked a lot. We sat on the floor near the record player and took turns choosing music. We ate some pizza and drank some wine.

It was late when the conversation wound down and we started to dance. The music was soothing; the movement was easy and relaxed. What a lovely dancer he was.

Barbra Streisand was singing He Touched Me when we kissed, a soft sweet kiss that came so close to sweeping me away that I suddenly realized I had gone too far.

I was in a committed relationship and this was not something I would do.

I moved away from him, so sadly, and I told him this was wrong for me. It hadn't been my intention. He was sad too. He said it hadn't been his intention either and I believed him.

The buses had stopped running and he lived quite a distance away. I assured him it was okay if he stayed although those French Provincial couches weren't made for napping on. We both went in and lay on the bed, each on one side, on top of the bedding. When it began to get light out, he left quietly.

I continued to see him over the next few years — always in the company of others. There was plenty of laughter and music. I even have a few photos of him and me, fooling around, obviously having fun. The subject of the evening we spent together never came up.

Would this be a better story if it had ended differently? There's no answer to that. Stories don't end so easily. If I had chosen differently that evening, my story might have had a much different plot.

It's said that when we look back, we'll regret the things we didn't do more than anything we did. Maybe.

Maybe not.

Listen to Edith Piaf here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

All about me: One of those Facebook things I never do

These exercises show up on Facebook in various forms, covering different topics. I saw this one today and I thought it would be interesting (to me) because it's all about me! It's not a polite conversation of give-and-take, back-and-forth. It's like being interviewed.

And it's easy. I'm working on some pieces that are a little more difficult and require some research so I liked this one.

1. Who are you named after?

I think I remember asking my mother if I'd been named after anyone she knew and the answer was no. Neither my sister nor I were named after anyone. They were just names my mother liked. (I'm pretty sure my father would have been happy with Mum's choices.)

2. Last time you cried?

I saw a film called Lion a few days ago. It's the story of a tiny boy of five — played by Sunny Pawar, maybe the cutest little guy ever — who gets lost in the teeming streets of Calcutta. I won't tell you the story although Sunny grows up to be played by Dev Patel and along the way, there are some touching and some quite wrenching moments. Anyone might shed a few tears.

Sunny and Dev at the Golden Globes

3. Do you like your handwriting?

Sure. What's not to like? I do remember that I was a terrible writer in early elementary school but by about grade five, I became aware that I was surrounded by fellow students who had such pretty writing that I made it a project to improve mine. I don't think I ever made it "pretty" and I didn't dot my "i's" with little hearts or anything like that. But I think my writing is pretty nice.

4. What is your favourite lunch meat?

Such an odd question and so out of place. I remember as a little kid really liking sandwiches made with one of Mum's freshly baked rolls, a slice of Kam and French's yellow mustard. I told Mum it was what I was going to serve at my wedding. (I didn't.) There were also Spam and Klik and Prem. Probably others too but it was always Kam for me. I don't eat Kam any more. I do like a good ham. We had an excellent one over Christmas.

5. Do you have kids?

I do.

Here he is. His name is William and he's a university student studying political science. He's just started an NDP students' association. (Photo by Keisha Toner.)

6. Do you use sarcasm?

Who, me? Why I'd never even consider it.

7. Do you still have your tonsils?

I do not. I had my tonsils removed when I was 21. It's considered major surgery when you're an adult and it was quite an ordeal. I was in my final year as a nursing student at the Montreal General Hospital and I was admitted to the 20th floor — a private floor and the height of hospital luxury. Even still, I wouldn't recommend it as a casual experience.

8. Would you bungee jump?

No.

9. What is your favorite kind of cereal?

I'm not a big eater of cereal although I grew up eating porridge and shredded wheat — remember those big dry clumps that you'd crumble into your bowl and soak in milk?

I like corn flakes and rice krispies. I don't like any cereal that's "frosted" or is so obviously sugared-up.

10. Married?

I am. I've written about meeting my husband right here and about our wedding over here. They're both awfully good stories and I recommend them.

11. Do you think you are strong?

Tough question. Do you think I'm strong? I haven't really been tested the way so many people have; in general, I've led quite a fortunate and privileged life. I did, however, go through a robbery where I was held at knife-point and left bound and gagged in my bathroom and there were people who thought I handled that with some fortitude. I wrote about that too and you can read it here.

12. What is your favourite ice cream?

Oh, it changes. Right now, I like a small bowl, every so often, of Breyer's Gelato, vanilla and caramel. It's decadently lovely and you must not eat too much of it because you don't want it to become commonplace or familiar. You want it to remain an aloof luxurious enigma.

13. What is the first thing you notice about somebody?

Hmmm. It depends, of course. Are they walking toward me? Am I being introduced to them? Are they alone? Is there something terribly unusual or eccentric about them? Are they behind me? I find this question almost impossible to answer. When I get an answer to all my questions, I'll try again.

14. Football or baseball?

Baseball.

15. What is one thing you like about yourself?

Golly. What can I say? I guess I like the fact that I'm quite self-disciplined and quite organized. I think I'm considerate of others and I try to make the world a better place. I like my hair.

16. What colour pants are you wearing?

Black.

17. Last thing you ate?

Beef stew with dumplings.

18. What are you listening to right now?

SiriusXM Streaming. Margaret Whiting singing The Way You Look Tonight.

19. If you were a crayon, what colour would you be?

Probably forest green.

20. Favourite smell?

As so many others do, I love the smell of bread right out of the oven.

And on a more romantic note, I love the fragrance Summer Hill by Crabtree & Evelyn.

Don't worry, I mostly wear it at home or to my hair salon where I assume it will fit right in and won't cause any allergic reactions. I'm respectful of allergies and there are plenty of perfumes and colognes that I really hate. But Summer Hill is light and floral and irresistible — in its place.

21. Who was the last person you spoke to on the phone?

My sister, Marilyn. She had a birthday last week and I called a day or two post-birthday for an extended chat.

That's Marilyn in front with her beloved granddaughter Aleesha. Standing behind her are her husband Tom, her daughter Lisa, son-in-law Mike, and son Matthew (Aleesha's dad.) The picture was taken at their cottage on the upper Miramichi.

22. Favorite sport to watch on TV?

Baseball. Or basketball. It depends on what's on. I know and love the game of baseball and I always wonder how anyone could find it dull. There's so much to watch for in a baseball game: a perfect double play, or a bunt laid down the third-base line and a dramatic slide into second, or the tension as the pitcher shakes off the catcher's signals, looking for the perfect pitch and rattling the batter a little while he's at it. So exciting and suspenseful and dramatic. Basketball is, of course, not very subtle. It's just exciting because it is.

23. Hair colour?

I often say it's platinum but it is, admittedly, snowy white.

24. Eye colour?

Blue.

25. Favourite food to eat?

Whatever is placed in front of me when I'm really hungry. One of my most-read posts on this blog is called The best thing I ever ate. . .

26. Scary movies or happy?

There are more than two categories of movies. I don't particularly like scary movies but I like lots of movies that wouldn't be described as "happy." One of my favourite movies, going back quite far, is Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean. It's a Robert Altman movie and it stars Cher, Sandy Dennis, Karen Black, Kathy Bates. One of the reviewers called it "soft and sad" — which it was, so neither scary nor happy.

27. Last movie you watched on TV?

The Railway Man: "A former British Army officer, who was tormented as a prisoner of war at a Japanese labor camp during World War II, discovers that the man responsible for much of his treatment is still alive and sets out to confront him." It was good although I usually don't watch movies if I sense there's going to be torture. There was torture but I averted my eyes.

28. Last movie you watched at a theatre?

Lion, as noted above. Far far above. However, the second-last movie I saw was La La Land. I won't go into any detail because I don't want to provide spoilers so if you want to know what I thought of it, send me a stamped, self-addressed envelope and I'll definitely be in touch.

29. What colour shirt are you wearing?

White with a red and black geometric pattern. (?)

There's the shirt on a London sight-seeing bus. If I'd been thinking ahead, I could have used this photo to illustrate number 5 and number 23.

30. Favourite holiday?

Christmas, I suppose, although that seems very conventional and predictable. I really like Easter too. Both are religious and traditional and steeped in family lore but Easter seems a little more flexible. It's a beautiful time of year also, alive with hope and lengthening days. The feast is fresh and bright and there's lemon in every course.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Wishing for a happy and peaceful 2017

Of course, it will take a lot more than wishing to bring about the kind of year that the world deserves.

Many people think of the Monday after Labour Day as the real New Year. I can understand why but January 1 feels like a new beginning to me. All the brand new calendars, the beautiful Christmas tree out to the curb, the settling-in after holidays to challenge the winter.

2017 is going to be a major challenge. A lot of people around the world and here at home are going to need help and support. I hope we will all do what we can to reach out to our community and beyond.

New Year's Eve is a much-anticipated celebration and, sad to say, is often a letdown for that very reason. Here's a story I've shared before in which New Year's Eve lived up to all expectations. It's the story of New Year's Eve in Madrid.